By Josette Keelor
Newcomers to Shenandoah Valley Artworks in Strasburg on Monday and Wednesday afternoons tend to hover in the doorway until painter Linda A. Anderson waves them into her makeshift studio.
That's when the discussion begins, and if she had her way it would never end. They watch her paint, they ask about her artwork and they offer opinions -- feedback she never would hear from visitors in a museum. The longer she keeps them talking, the greater the experience for both sides.
A living fixture at 234 King St. since October, the Front Royal artist was at first apprehensive about becoming a form of performance art.
"It's the first time I've ever done such a thing," she said. It was risky inviting the public into what is normally a private experience, but it had the desired effect.
"Everything I do is all about engaging people fully," she said.
At area galleries the Internet has been a game changer -- a blessing and a curse, said Kym Crump, executive director at the nonprofit Blue Ridge Arts Council in Front Royal.
"I've been here for 13 years," she said. "Every three years or so, things seem to change in terms of interests, in terms of artist production."
Increasingly, artists are using websites like etsy.com to show their work instead of toting it to regional venues. Galleries could suffer from this, but the smart ones evolve as well.
Anderson remembered 23 years ago watching visitors to the Louvre in Paris passing famous painting after famous painting as if the art were nothing more than trees lining a sidewalk. People paused for posterity, she said -- to capture the moment on film. Then they moved on.
If that happens in the Louvre, what chance does any small gallery have? Anderson knows: Don't be a museum.
According to her, people don't experience art the way they used to, standing there drinking in its beauty. Instead, they inhale it through a trend she called "cultural tourism."
"It changed the way that I approached artwork," she said.
Penelope Carroll is still fairly new to the art world and to The Art Group Gallery in Mount Jackso, as its newly elected president. For her, the Internet has always been a part of the artistic experience and far from viewing it as a threat, she and other cooperative members use it to help artists reach a greater audience.
"It gets us on calendars," she said, "gives us the opportunity to do special events ... in combination with the other artisans and agri-artisans in the area."
Listings like the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail also alert visitors to the Shenandoah Valley where to find The Art Group Gallery in the Bowman-Shannon Cultural Arts Center at 5998 Main St., Mount Jackson.
Other galleries and art venues along the trail of 75 artisans, restaurants and various points of interest include 7 East Gallery at 123 Main St., Woodstock, and the Apple Gallery déjà vu, 201 S. Main St., Edinburg.
Carroll and Crump said classes and on-site demonstrations by artists draw community interest.
The Blue Ridge Arts Council's summer music series has been going strong for 25 years, and new drama classes have added to an already thriving repertoire of voice and piano lessons at 305 E. Main St., Front Royal.
Mount Jackson's gallery averages 30 visitors every first Friday for live music and refreshments, and Anderson said Third Friday Music and More has inspired interest in Shenandoah Valley Artworks, which formed from King Street Art Works in May 2012.
Holding her twice weekly painting sessions has added to "just this whole evolution," she said. "It becomes a community involvement and like a welcome center."
Combining printmaking with painting helps Anderson draw viewers' eyes into forests of tangled vines and ancient trees -- suggesting new life growing from history.
Spending several months or even years on each work of art also adds to that feeling, awarding it "layers of time in the process of creation."
"Each place has a different feeling, a different spirit to it, the soul of the land," she said.
"I want to show people different vantage points that you can't see if you stay on the trail, so it's like this invitation to go off the trail."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com